I may tell more of their story in a future post, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s they were living out their lives in Tahiti as famous and successful writers.
On Maui, Hawaii, there was an organization called "The Friends of the Library" to which people would donate used books that would then be sold for 25 cents by the 'friends'" to raise money for the local libraries. My parents told me about and soon I was looking forward to every 'friends' sale to scour the books for out of print treasures. It was great fun, for I could come home with a pile of books, and the ones I decided not to keep, give back to the friends again having only spent 25 cents to try it out. One such treasure that my father uncovered was written by an artist, Robert Lee Eskridge.
Eskridge, born in Pennsylvania in 1891, studied at the University of Southern California, the Los Angeles Academy of Fine Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Academy of the Fine Arts. In the 1930s, he painted murals for the WPA* and spent the years during World War II teaching in Florida and Los Angeles. Later he lived in Hawaii and taught at the University of Hawaii.
*WPA - (for my many non-American friends) In the USA during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt started a program to put unemployed people, including artists, to work on public projects. It was called Works Progess Administration or "WPA" for short.
In the mid-1920s Eskridge traveled to Tahiti to explore the setting for paintings he had seen by Gauguin. He came to know Nordoff and Hall, and became a friend of Marau, Queen of Tahiti. She told him that what he was seeking would be found in "the forgotten isles" on Manga Reva, the major island in the Gambier Archipelago which was approximately 1,025 miles south east from Tahiti - not an easy trip to arrange or accomplish, especially in those days. Eskridge traveled there in 1928 and stayed eight months, during which time he did paintings, drawings, and watercolors of the island and its people.
When he returned to the US, he wrote of his experiences and his discoveries about the people and their history in a book titled "Manga Reva, The Forgotten Islands". On this remote island he learned about the pearl trade, ghost stories, and the true tale of a Jesuit priest, Honore Leval, who came to 'save' the people but instead became their dictator and came to be known as "the Mad Priest". Laval was there for 37 years. First, he converted them to Catholicism (though they thought the God of the French was just another aspect of their own God) and toppled their idols. He forced them to live by a strict code of rules, wear overly modest clothing unsuitable for the tropics, and put them to work building a huge 1200 seat coral cathedral with a mother of pearl altar, a school, nunery, and also a prison that saw far too much use. The population declined from an estimated 9,000 on his arrival in 1834 to a fraction of that number when he was removed in 1871. When asked by the Commandant from Papeete what kind of governing results in 5,000 deaths in one span of 10 years, Laval reportedly replied "Ah, Monsieur le Compte, they have but gone more quickly to heaven."
I have only scratched the surface of the story, and have saved the best aspect of this book for last. Robert Lee Eskridge was first and formost and artist and illustrator. He adorned the pages of his book with his own art. The are some 13 full page black and white illustrations. You can see some of them on this blog - on the header and on the side bar. Those are from the book "Manga Reva the Forgotten Islands", but of course seeing them in the book is far better. I hope you enjoy them.
Long out of print - it was published in 1931 - it is well worth tracking down a used copy of this gem. I've seen them for sale on abebooks.com and alibris.com. Occassionaly you might find one offered on eBay.
Eskridge's paintings, murals, and drawings can be found in Tahiti, Hawaii (Honolulu Academy of Arts), many US mainland cities, the Smithsonian, and Paris.